EU Briefs: Funding Cities, Simpler VAT, and More

Cities across the European Union can now apply for a piece of €100 million in funding, under the 3rd Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) Initiative. The deadline is 30 March. This call for applications is focused on innovative urban projects in four main areas: adaptation to climate change, improving air quality, housing, and jobs and skills for the local economy. It’s open to urban authorities, like city councils, rather than private entities.

So far, 31 EU cities have taken part in the UIA Initiative, including Antwerp in Belgium, which received nearly €4.9 million for a co-housing  project with young refugees, or Birmingham in the UK, which received almost €3 million to help fight urban poverty. Around 359 million people, or roughly 72 percent of the EU population, live in urban areas, according to the European Commission.

Simpler VAT

Early in December 2017, the European Union reached an agreement on simplifying the VAT rules for companies that sell online. Different tax policies across member states had made cross-border sales complicated in some cases for consumers and businesses, and led to VAT fraud.

The new system should meant that companies which sell abroad online will deal with VAT in the same way as for sales within their own countries. The new rules will be rolled out by 2021, and should ensure that VAT is paid in the member state of the final consumer. Some argue that this should help ensure a fairer distribution of tax revenues among member states, and help to capture the estimated €5 billion of VAT lost on online sales every year in the EU.

A Warning to Ireland

At the end of last year, the European Commission announced that it had decided to send a letter of formal notice to Ireland for not complying with EU law on the mutual recognition of seafarers’ certificates.

According to the EU regulations, each member state has to recognise competency documents issued by another EU country, including those for seafarers. The EU has defined the minimum level of training, education and certification for seafarers. It says that was simplified in part to attract young people to the profession.

But in February 2017, the Irish authorities issued a marine notice, under which certificates issued by training providers approved by the competent authorities of other member states are not accepted for training carried out in Ireland.

Ireland now has two months to comply with EU law, or the commission may take the next step in the infringement procedure.

Emergency Calls

If you get a new car or van after April 2018, it should come with a new emergency auto-call device, which should dial 112 automatically if there is a serious accident, under new rules. That call will go through to Europe’s satellite navigation system which in turn, using Galileo satellites, should be able to locate the car.

The European Union is monitoring whether manufacturers install the devices properly. And those who make the devices have been sending them to the Joint Research Centre’s laboratory in Ispra, Italy where EU scientists check that they comply with EU law.

Some experts argue that the device could shorten the response time for emergency services by up to 50 percent in the countryside, and 40 percent in urban areas.

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Jowita Kiwnik Pargana: Jowita is a Polish journalist based in Brussels, covering EU affairs and legislation.

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